It’s not tribalism that’s driving us apart, but the lack of it.
Research first published in Sage Journal in August 2019 titled: Tribalism Is Human Nature, psychologists suggest selective pressures have sculpted human minds to be tribal. Humans evolved in the context of intense intergroup competition. Groups made up of loyal members succeeded more often than groups of disloyal members.
A consequence of group loyalty is the associated cognitive biases that exist in all groups. In their conclusion, the authors stressed the importance of this finding. “Tribal bias is a natural and nearly ineradicable feature of human cognition and that no group—not even one’s own—is immune.”
In another article by Jennifer Brick Murtazashvili, she argues, the problem today is not tribalism but its absence. Murtazashvili wrote the book Informal Order and the State in Afghanistan after spending years on the ground in Afghanistan. She explains her experience. “Customary leaders were able to build legitimacy because they cultivated a sense of group belonging. They did this by treating most people with dignity, fairness, and respect—even those with whom they disagreed.”
Anthropologist Emanuel Marx described tribes as “units of subsistence”. They can be seen as foundational social units that perform a range of functions. From being an identity marker to being a provider of infrastructure, tribes can protect, provide, and even nurture.
Murtazashvili continues, “We no longer value or know how to live like tribes: to make rules together, to develop consensus, to work out difficult problems without calling for outside help. In fact, tribes—real tribes—provide a great deal of meaning, community, and connection.” Members of a tribe have a form of social cohesion that permeates the group, a sense of community and belonging.
We all belong to a tribe. We belong to many tribes. The industry in which you work is a tribe. Your company is a tribe. Your family is a tribe. If you like going to the gym, other gym members are your tribe. If you like Formula 1 motorcar racing, you’re in a tribe. If you like Sir Lewis Hamilton, you’re in that tribe. If you don’t like his highness, you’re in another tribe. If you’re a woman, you’re a member of a tribe. If you’re lesbian, you’re a member of both tribes.
“Tribalism” has a negative connotation. That’s largely because of how the power-hungry use it to cause harm and division. Their efforts undermine the intention to build consensus, to help overcome divisiveness and to rely on one another. As members of a tribe—be that a political party, a sports team, a book club, or a church—our sense of belonging depends on how we treat each other.
Creating a sense of belonging—of community—is every tribe member’s responsibility to the other members of the tribe. We need leaders who can help us overcome divisiveness so that we can learn to rely on one another. As a tribe can consist of people who are members of many other tribes, so too every South African is in the South African tribe.
Tribalism should not be blamed for causing division. We should learn to use it to cause harmony among tribal members, remembering we’re all part of the same tribe.
Have an awesome weekend and please be generous! 😄
As always, thanks for reading 🙏